Breaking a Bunch of Chopsticks is Hard: Together for Domestic Worker's Better Journey

We were very happy and hopeful back then when we learnt about our rights and what we deserve even if we are domestic workers.
Sreymom, Domestic Worker

Ms Phon Sreymom, 41, is an indigenous Brao from Rattanakiri province. For almost ten years, she has been working as a domestic worker for an expat family. Before her current job as a domestic worker, Sreymom was a cleaner at a private company and a hotel's staff.

Accessing free medical services means a lot to Sreymom. She lost one of her twin children because there were no health facilities in her community in Rattanakiri, and she could not afford the treatment cost. Back then, she travelled back and forth between Phnom Penh and Rattanakiri to send her sick children for treatment at Kantha Bopha Hospital. Unfortunately, one of her twins could not be saved.

To ensure her only surviving child, now 16-year-old, could access medical services and treatment, she decided to move to Phnom Penh. Sreymom understands women's rights and gender issues. Thanks to the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)'s activities and training, she realized that a domestic worker has rights and could negotiate better working conditions with the house owner.

Five years ago, Sreymom did not know much about IDEA or workers' rights. When her friend, a member of IDEA, suggested joining the association, Sreymom was hesitant and unsure if IDEA was the right association to represent workers like her. At first, he joined a few activities as an observer. Later on, Sreymom realized that IDEA's mission and activities are extremely important, working towards improving workers' rights and conditions, particularly for informal workers like her.

"We were very happy and hopeful back then when we learnt about our rights and what we deserve even if we are domestic workers," Sreymom said.

"IDEA activities empower human rights and support female domestic workers like me to express our opinions. [Being a member of IDEA] has also helped me obtain the NSSF card for free medical services," she said.

Often domestic workers face difficult working conditions, including —abusive bosses, unpaid overtime, unapproved leaves, violence, discrimination, and many of them have very restricted access to outside. But domestic workers who are members of IDEA can bargain for more freedom and benefits. The marginalized collective workers are powerful, and IDEA is always there for them, said Sreymom.

"Breaking one chopstick is easy, but breaking a bunch of chopsticks is hard," Sreymom referred to the collaborative spirit of the informal workers, including tuk-tuk drivers, street vendors, and domestic workers like herself.

"We don't have much support from other organizations. IDEA has been very helpful so far. During Covid19, I got some money to settle my financial difficulties," she said.

"The union leader often calls and follows up with us on how we are doing and if we need any further support. So, I feel they have our back," she added.